INDIANAPOLIS – His quick work at Indianapolis Motor Speedway went so smoothly, Alexander Rossi didn’t need much track time before calling it an early Wednesday after just 46 completed laps.
His best lap of 224.648 mph on the 2.5-mile superspeedway was also the fastest without a tow, which meant the Andretti Autosport driver ranked No. 1 this day among all drivers posting a speed without the benefit of an aerodynamic draft from another car.
That’s important in assessing the speed of a car when running alone, which drivers will do this weekend during Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“We had kind of accomplished what we had done, and we were really efficient on the first two days of our specific checklist on the (No.) 27 car,” Rossi said. “In terms of our timeline and everything we were trying to do, we kind of accomplished it, which is great.
“You don’t have many test days where you’re ahead of schedule. We’ll take it and get back to work first thing tomorrow morning.”
Rossi’s 46 laps in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda tied with two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso for the fewest run this day — and Alonso’s day ended in the early afternoon with a Turn 3 crash that had his McLaren team scrambling to prepare a car for Thursday practice.
Rossi has grown dramatically since bursting onto the NTT IndyCar Series scene as an Andretti Autosport rookie with his memorable Indy 500 triumph in 2016. The 27-year-old Californian has since ascended to the ranks of the elite as a championship contender, finishing second to Scott Dixon last year. Despite being rear-ended at the start of Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix and finishing a disappointing 22nd, Rossi is a solid third in the points entering the Indy 500 that pays double race points.
A few years ago, he might have lamented such a bad result as Saturday, although the circumstances were beyond his control. He also might worry about an Indy 500 practice where his car ranked 34th of 36 on the overall speed chart. And, conversely, he might have put too much stock in being No. 1 on the no-tow list.
Not today. Rossi has learned that so much can change between now and the end of the qualifying weekend. He downplayed the significance of the no-tow lap when asked how much it means.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling. “It’s Wednesday. It’s pretty irrelevant.”
After a pause, he conceded a modest positive.
“It’s good, right?” he said. “It means I think there’s inherent pace in the car, which is always a positive, and it’s always a question mark when coming here. We were joking earlier kind of among the drivers. The drivers are a much smaller equation in a place like this in terms of the overall performance, at least in single-lap pace. It’s really down to the car and the setup you come up with.”
Andretti Autosport, which has won three of the past five Indianapolis 500s, operates much like the other large teams in sharing the practice workload among drivers. That means 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Conor Daly, Zach Veach and Rossi each are assigned daily tasks, and then the drivers gather with engineers to share the information at the end of the day.
“It’s an open book,” Rossi said. “So we share everything: good, bad, indifferent.”
Veach was seventh on the overall speed chart at 228.057 mph and much busier in completing 107 laps. Andretti ranked 13th, Daly 18th and Hunter-Reay 27th. Daly completed a team-high 112 laps.
Everything changes on “Fast Friday,” the final practice day before qualifying when engines receive an extra turbocharger boost and teams focus more on lighter qualifying setups to turn the fastest laps in preparation for the nail-biting four-lap runs Saturday and Sunday.
Until then, most teams are concentrating on race setups during practice.
“They’re usually two very independent cars, your race car and your qualifying car,” Rossi said. “You need to make sure you’re comfortable in both.”
Rossi appreciated being asked again about his win in the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and didn’t hesitate to assure he’s as motivated as ever to win it again.
“This one, you get a small taste of it, and the desire ramps up I think even more,” Rossi said. “You don’t want anybody else to experience that and kind of get to celebrate it for the next 12 months. That’s the special thing about this race, every couple of months there’s something reminding you of your accomplishment and ceremonial things. I think that’s very cool.
“I remember in 2017 when Takuma (Sato) won,” Rossi recalled with a grin. “I just stopped looking at his social media because I was jealous.”
Rossi and the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series drivers return to action for practice Thursday at IMS. Catch a livestream broadcast of the entire day from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. ET on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Timing and scoring is available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
The 103rd Indianapolis 500 airs live at 11 a.m. ET Sunday, May 26 on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Tickets for practice, qualifying and race days are available at IMS.com.